Wendell Carter has had a very shaky first 4 years in the NBA.
Being drafted by the Chicago Bulls with the seventh overall pick, one pick after the Orlando Magic drafted his now-frontcourt running mate Mo Bamba with the sixth pick, Carter was viewed in the draft process as a do-it-all big man with limited upside. The Bulls were expecting him to provide solid defense and contribute as a role player offensively.
Carter never reached that level. His defense was fine, but not otherworldly and he struggled to find his offensive rhythm or flow.
Injuries played a big part of his failed tenure in Chicago. As did having three different head coaches in three seasons there. Carter lacked stability and seemed to have bouts with confidence with coaches afraid to rely on him because of a hesitancy even to shoot.
The narrative on Carter quickly became that he was a solid defender but not someone that could give the team very much on offense.
Now with his fifth head coach in his NBA career, he has finally seemed to have found a home in Orlando. A new setting has helped reinvigorate Carter’s career and given him some needed stability.
Maybe being in a rebuild will do him well after all.
Carter has been a dynamic defender, able to defend the post in slowing down Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic just as much as he is capable to switch onto the perimeter when called upon. And he has expanded his offensive game, not only showing a willingness to shoot but to shoot and hit from beyond the arc.
Carter has quickly turned himself into a modern center.
The Orlando Magic may have found their big man for the future with Wendell Carter. He has developed a reliable 3-point shot as well, alongside his solid defensive arsenal.
Fresh off signing a four-year, $50-million extension with the Magic, he has gotten off to a very good start this season through 24 games on both ends of the floor.
He is averaging 13.1 points per game and 9.8 rebounds per game. He is doing this, however, on only 10.0 field goal attempts per game. Still, he is shooting nearly 52-percent from the field.
The Magic need Carter to be a bit more aggressive on offense, as good things generally tend to happen when he is locked in and aggressive offensively.
This is because he has expanded his game greatly, adding in a reliable 3-point shot to his attack.
Carter was mostly a back-to-the-basket bruising big man in the post before this season. But, after his arrival in Orlando, former coach Steve Clifford asked him to step out and take more three-point jumpers, similar to how Clifford did with Nikola Vucevic.
Carter said he worked on his three-point jump shot all summer, and new coach Jamahl Mosley has continued that trust and expansion.
Still, it has been up to Carter to make good on that expansion. And he has done so this year.
Carter is shooting 35.1-percent from the 3-point line on 3.9 attempts per game. That is not anything super impressive when looking at the league average. But, for a big man, 35-percent is serviceable.
He has opposing bigs running out to the 3-point line to contest his shot, which shows his jumper has the respect of opposing teams. And for a team with few offensive weapons, being able to mix up and pick and rolls or have Carter hit threes as a trailer in transition is a valuable weapon.
Carter’s aggression tracks with some of the Magic’s better games too.
The Magic are 2-3 this season when Carter scores 18 points or more. Orlando has a -5.1 net rating with Carter on the floor (102.4 offensive rating/107.4 defensive rating), one of the better marks for the team. The Magic are better offensively and defensively with Carter on the floor.
That shows the Magic simply function better when he is looking for his own on that end of the floor.
The Magic’s coaching staff has been very pleased with his effort every night on defense too, giving him the tough assignments like Jokic and Embiid, both of whom Carter fared very well against.
Holding Embiid to 4-16 shooting and 3 turnovers and Jokic to 7-19 shooting and 5 turnovers. That are just recent examples of Carter holding his own on the defensive side of the ball. When asked how he does so, the selfless Wendell credited his teammates in helping him and how guarding is a team effort.
But the Magic’s big alignment has put Carter on the perimeter a lot more. And it is this versatility that has him feeling like a much more modern contributor to the team.
Defensively, he has shown the ability to move his feet very quickly on the perimeter. With Mosley starting Bamba alongside Carter, it has put Carter at the 4 a whole lot more (approximately 73-percent of his minutes according to Basketball-Reference). That has given him more opportunity to showcase his talent on the perimeter defensively.
Opposing players are shooting 40.5-percent (7.3 out of 18.0 field goal attempts per game) when guarded by Carter from 10-24 feet from the basket. He has done a tremendous job keeping his man in front of him.
That is a skill a modern big man in today’s NBA simply has to possess for him to stay on the floor.
He is a great screener as well, which allows his teammates to get open looks. He is 14th in the NBA in screen assists with 3.9 per game. He is also averaging 2.2 assists per game, which is 11th in the league among big men. He has always made solid reads offensively when passing even dating back to his days in college.
The Magic got Carter back on an extremely team-friendly extension. And that extension is only looking better and better with his amazing play on both ends this season thus far.
That is because Carter has evolved his game a ton. He has turned himself into a modern center and made a huge impact for this young Magic team.